New Content Added: To update the content we have added Terrorism & ISIS and Cultural Diversity information found at the end of the Table of Contents.
Concerning your Professional Code of Ethics, as you know, a mental health practitioner is to exhibit a non-judgmental attitude. However, ask yourself: when such heinous crimes against humanity are committed, where and how do you set an ethical boundary in your own mind regarding revealing your personal feelings or judgments to your client?
For example, the Code of Ethics states to exhibit an attitude of acceptance, and of course, one would think without question to accept others’ religious beliefs.
In this section, we will look at a case study as to how one therapist handled this ethical conflict. We will also examine the first of five tools for treating clients who are affected by terrorist acts. Tool number one is providing your client with factual information about the psychology of terrorism and a discussion of ethical questions that can arise.
♦ The Terrorist "Mind-Set"
Helen, age 65, was suffering from an Anxiety Disorder following the September 11th attacks. As you know, clearly, for your client a wide range of marked physical changes can accompany an experience of loss. Not only through tears of grief, but under the stress of what is an unrecoverable loss, our bodies have a dozen ways of grieving. Helen was experiencing headaches, digestive disturbances, and an ache in her right arm.
In sessions she would continually ask what could the terrorists have been thinking? How could they do this? The therapists found it helpful to provide her with some factual insights into the motivation for terrorism to answer her question, "How could they do this?"
Five Tools for Treating Clients Who are Affected by Terrorist Acts
♦ Tool #1: The Psychology of Terrorism
Here’s tool number one and some information you might pass along when your clients ask about the motivation behind terrorist actions. You might tell your client, "First, it can be sometimes beneficial to understand the true definition of ‘jihad,’ The term jihad translates to ‘struggle’ or ‘effort.’ Normally, this translates as ‘to fight the good fight.’ It is true that ‘jihad’ can refer to a holy war.
...Many of the terrorists involved in the September 11th attack were young or vulnerable individuals who were convinced by a charismatic leader that the terrorist attacks were a way to ‘fight the good fight’. This coercion resulted in these individuals truly believing that they were doing God’s work, and acting in the best interests of their faith and their community." Ask yourself, would this explanation assist a client you are treating in their grief response to terrorist acts?
You might find it beneficial to explain to your client that there are parallels between terrorist organizations, and the more familiar example of criminal gang organizations in the United States. Many clients, like Mildred, are familiar with the violent actions perpetrated by criminal gangs in the United States. Clients may also be aware that gang organizations are usually centralized in areas where many young people are socio-economically disadvantaged.
Current research indicates that many terrorist leaders have the same personality characteristics and mindset as criminal gang leaders. They tend towards sociopathy, and as such do not experience guilt as the result of causing violence. You might state to your client, "Researchers have found that many terrorist leaders have a history of theft, intimidation, battery, rape, and even murder in their own neighborhoods. Many have even spent time in prison for these violent actions. However, it is important to draw a distinction between these charismatic, sociopathic terrorist or criminal gang leaders, and their followers."
Like many criminal gang members who come from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds, many terrorist followers come from areas in which war and poverty have resulted in large numbers of vulnerable, uneducated, disaffected, and often hopeless young people. Just like charismatic gang leaders in the United States, terrorist leaders target this needy population with brainwashing and similar tactics. In the case of terrorism in the Middle East and elsewhere, religion becomes a tool to enhance this brainwashing tactic. Religion is also used by terrorist leaders as an excuse for their own actions and behavior to avoid narcissistic insult or punishment.
You might explain this to your client by stating, "Terrorist leaders, like criminal gang leaders, are usually motivated by power, wealth, fame, and domination. As a result, they use others to carry out crimes so that they do not need to risk their own lives. Their followers are often motivated by faith that this charismatic leader will help themselves and their community through extreme actions. Therefore, the violent acts become a means to a positive end."
A colleague of mine found when he explained to an Anxiety Disordered client, Mildred, the means-to-an-end justification that terrorists use, she was better able to quell her anxious feelings, because she had been given a reason why.
As the therapists explained to Mildred, means-to-an-end justification is perhaps the most prevalent justification for modern terrorist violence. Terrorist leaders state that atrocious actions are necessary because the final outcome will remake the world as it was intended to be. The leader encourages the followers to view themselves as soldiers on a crusade, guerrillas in a struggle for world liberation. In the new age, they state violence, murder, and death will be things of the past.
Today, however, violence is necessary because the new age must be ushered in. In the world of terrorism, the promise of things to come justifies the crimes of today. Let me repeat that sentence again, because with Mildred the therapists found it helped to simplify an answer to her need for a "reason why" while maintaining a culturally-sensitive stance. In the world of terrorism, the promise of things to come justifies the crimes of today. When clients ask you why or how these terrorist attacks could happen, I find that one sentence captures a core motivation.
Clearly, the above explanations given to Mildred were an oversimplification of a very complex issue. However, I feel that a culturally sensitive but simplified explanation was the most beneficial step towards directly addressing the primary clinical issue of Mildred’s anxiety. My colleague also indicated that he found that drawing parallels to criminal gang structure useful, as presenting terrorist organization as similar to a more familiar issue helped lessen her anxiety when discussing terrorism in general.
Think of your Mildred. Would explaining terrorism in the context of a more familiar issue help lessen his or her anxiety during your discussion of terrorist motivation and organization?
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Brugh, C. S., Desmarais, S. L., Simons-Rudolph, J., & Zottola, S. A. (2019). Gender in the jihad: Characteristics and outcomes among women and men involved in jihadism-inspired terrorism. Journal of Threat Assessment and Management, 6
García Coll, C., & Marks, A. K. (2017).
Missing developmental and sociocultural perspectives: Comment on the “Psychology of Terrorism” special issue (2017). American Psychologist, 72
Horgan, J. G. (2017).
Psychology of terrorism: Introduction to the special issue. American Psychologist, 72
Logan, M. K., Damadzic, A., Medeiros, K., Ligon, G. S., & Derrick, D. C. (2021). Constraints to malevolent innovation in terrorist attacks. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts.
Advance online publication.
Mac Giollabhui, N., Hamilton, J. L., Nielsen, J., Connolly, S. L., Stange, J. P., Varga, S., Burdette, E., Olino, T. M., Abramson, L. Y., & Alloy, L. B. (2018). Negative cognitive style interacts with negative life events to predict first onset of a major depressive episode in adolescence via hopelessness. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 127(1), 1–11.
Miller, L. (2002). Psychological interventions for terroristic trauma: Symptoms, syndromes, and treatment strategies. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 39(4), 283–296.
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